Beekeeping 101: How-to Start Cultivating Your Own Honey Bees

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There is nothing quite like the feeling of being completely in tune with a beehive. Understanding the behavior of a hive, handling the frames, extracting honey—beekeeping brings you face-to-face with nature. You come to understand how pollination works and how bees make their honey, and you bear witness to one of the most fundamental examples of how the plant and insect worlds interact. Here’s how to keep your own beehive.

Dana DiPrima, of XoXo Farmgirl, in her element.

Materials

  • Bee suit, including veil
  • Beekeeping gloves
  • Smoker
  • Beehive: outer and inner cover, shallow and deep supers, bottom board and hive stand
  • Hive boxes: deeps and shallows, frames
  • Metal hive tool

Select the best spot for the hive

Bees need four things for their hive: sun, fresh water, wind protection (always point hive openings away from prevailing winds if possible), and privacy (at least 50 feet from areas where people or pets congregate). Keeping the hive elevated by even just 1 or 2 feet will help keep out moisture and pests. You can use any sort of stable platform for this, from a sturdy wooden box to poured cement.

Get your timing right

Always add bees to a hive during spring when there are flowers blooming that can offer food to the bees.

Dana DiPrima, of XoXo Farmgirl, in her element.

Install the bees

Bees can be purchased online, although if you’re able to find a local beekeeper, you’re more likely to end up with bees suited for your climate. Your bees will likely come in a brood box. You’ll have to suit up and move the frames into a super, or box. Supers come in different sizes: Deep (the largest), holds 60 to 70 pounds of honey; medium holds 35 to 40 pounds; and a shallow holds 25 to 30 pounds of honey. Check with your bee source for their recommendations on moving the frames into your super—esoften this is as simple as smoking the hive; transferring the frames, one by one; then covering with the lid. For the base of your hive, always start with a deep super to optimize the amount of honey left for the bees to consume.

Dana DiPrima, of XoXo Farmgirl, in her element.

Check on the bees weekly, at least at first

When you’re just starting out with beekeeping, the general rule is to check on your bees once a week. More than once a week may become disruptive for the bees, but weekly checks have the added bonus that the bees grow acclimated to your scent. In time, many beekeepers are able to work on the hive without having to wear a bee suit, because the bees have become accustomed to their presence. It’s best to check on the hive during a still, sunny, and warm day, when most of the bees are out foraging.

There are a few things to look for when checking on your bees. Make sure the hive opening is clear, there is evidence of the queen, bees are coming in and out, honey is being produced, and no pests (like mites, wax moths, or hive beetles) are present. When one box is just about full with honey (at least seven frames will be filled), you’ll add another box on top and rehplace the lid.

Collect honey at the end of the season

In the fall, at the end inof your first f beekeeping season (or the following spring, if you want to give the bees their best chance of survival), you’ll be able to extract honey from the top of the beehive, leaving behind the bottom super or two for the bees to survive on. Always be sure to check the supers at the bottom to ensure they’re full before you take from the other boxes up top—sometimes bees will only partially fill a box before moving into the one above.

Dana DiPrima, of XoXo Farmgirl, in her element.

To collect the honey, smoke the hive, then take frames out of supers, gently sweep away the bees, and put the frames into a large pail (a sterilized garbage pail or  giant Tupperware container works fine—the frames just need to be in a container where the honey dripping off them will be caught). When you get them away from the hive, you can scrape the honey and wax from each side of the individual frames into a 5-gallon pail with a double layer of cheesecloth or honey strainer stretched across the top. The warmer the space where you do this, the faster the honey will strain through the filter (generally between 12 and 24 hours).

You can use the beeswax collected in the filtering material to make soap or candles;  the filtered honey collected in the bucket can be poured into jars for storage or sale.

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